SBJ/November 5 - 11, 2001/Labor Agents

Baseball agents will file quickly to get clients in on ‘old’ free agency system

Baseball player agents worried that a new collective-bargaining agreement could change the game's rules will file for free agency for their players at the earliest possible date in an attempt to protect the players' rights under the old system, several top agents said.

Players with six major league seasons can file for free agency the day after the World Series ends. In past seasons, some agents said, they would wait until later in the 15-day filing period, but they are concerned about the future after the current labor agreement expires Wednesday.

"I am going to do it," said one prominent agent who represents several potential free agents. "I want to make sure all my guys are protected and their free-agent status is protected."

Sports and labor law experts were divided on whether filing early would protect the rights of players under the old rules.

The Supreme Court has ruled that when a collective-bargaining agreement expires, the terms expire with it, except if the terms are vested and accrued, said David Gregory, professor of law at St. John's University Law School.

An agent could argue that free-agency rights are earned rights under the law but might have a hard time proving it, he said. "I would think it would be a hard road to argue grandfathering," he said.

Paul Weiler, professor of sports and labor law at Harvard Law School, said he does not think that filing for free agency would necessarily protect the rights of players under the old contract.

"The legal rights of individual union members depend on the union and the collective-bargaining agreement they negotiate for the players," Weiler said. "If [MLB union chief] Don Fehr and [MLB Commissioner] Bud Selig agree to the terms of a new agreement that expands free agency from six years to eight years, they can make it retroactive."

Fehr would not comment on this issue or disclose whether the union has advised agents to file for free agency for their players. Agents said they have not received any directives on the issue from the union.

"We haven't decided what we are going to do yet," said another agent who represents several players who will become free agents. "I think a lot of agents haven't decided."

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